A change is as good as a rest

Tony Gray made it his business when eldery relatives needed care. Wilf Altman reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sometimes a sense of duty can lead to a new business opportunity. When Tony Gray, after spending five years in the police force, joined the family's firm of pork pie and pork butchers' shops started by his great-grandmother, it didn't take him long, he says "to see the writing on the wall". City centre traffic, double yellow lines, higher shop rents and more supermarkets opening in York had reached a point where it seemed best to sell up.

Sometimes a sense of duty can lead to a new business opportunity. When Tony Gray, after spending five years in the police force, joined the family's firm of pork pie and pork butchers' shops started by his great-grandmother, it didn't take him long, he says "to see the writing on the wall". City centre traffic, double yellow lines, higher shop rents and more supermarkets opening in York had reached a point where it seemed best to sell up.

Furthermore, all seven elderly members of the family, who were also partners in the business, were increasingly in need of care and assistance. "It was up to me to find a solution. There was no-one else."

The solution: to buy a house which could become a residential care home, principally for the family. The Manor House opened as a 13-bed home and was quickly filled.

It became the launch pad for an enterprising new business venture. Having acquired the Georgian Grade-II listed building that was once a brewery and a resting home for the clergy, together with adjacent farm buildings at Stamford Bridge and creating a 13-bed home, he then expanded to accommodate 36 residents. Before long there were facilities for 46.

"It was clear that I would have to expand again, so negotiations began to purchase the 1.5 acres of land adjacent to the Manor House. Planning permission was finally obtained and then we had a battle to find the finance."

The next move was to offer day care and domiciliary care at the rear of the house with a team of trained home carers, and a home care agency to provide care support to people in their own homes.

What spurred the drive to continue expanding - to add capacity, recruit trained staff, cope with nursing care and ever increasing legislation? "Pressure of demand and rising costs," he replies. "You have to expand just to stand still!"

But there was clearly some reward and satisfaction in achieving a high - usually 95 per cent - occupancy rate and providing a friendly atmosphere, and quality service by a loyal and enthusiastic staff, many of whom have been at the Manor House from the start.

Working with the right accountant has helped. "There are accountants who are good at standard accountancy and there are entrepreneurial accountants. I've known Tony Farmer since he was training and looked after our accounts at the pork pie shops. Now corporate finance partner at J W Pickles & Co in Selby, he has been the family's financial adviser ever since.

"He helped me negotiate the purchase of land and premises and he secured a good deal with the finance company. He is on hand to deal with the banks and attends our weekly management meetings."

But building a care home business hasn't been all plain sailing. "It's involved years of hard work - not least organising finance and funding and coping with massive changes in legislation and health and safety regulations and maintaining quality of service."

Another expansion was completed last year with accommodation for 107 nursing residents as well as 30 close care homes for couples or single people over 60 in need of care. Last year, the Manor House established a home care agency to provide care support for people in their own homes.

"Occupancy levels are high," according to business associates, "because terms are competitive. It's not cut price, but not the most expensive either. Manor House offers good value."

"As a family business, we aim to provide high standards of care in a homely environment," Gray explains. "You are dealing with people's quality of life and comfort and we aim to cater for most tastes."

Comments